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How a flat cap and Seattle will affect the future of the Capitals – NBC Sports Washington



August 1, 2020
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In case you haven’t noticed, 2020 has been a weird year and it’s not going to get any less weird. Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan is facing an uncertain offseason unlike any he has experienced in the past. It’s not just because it is going to happen in the fall and not the summer, it’s about changes that will make all of the careful planning and projecting that goes into maintaining a roster go right out the window.

The major obstacle facing the Caps is a flat salary cap for next season and most likely beyond. Washington is a cap team meaning they spend close to the cap ceiling. MacLellan had to get creative at times over the season to keep the team under the cap. Now, because of lost revenue, the NHL will have a flat cap for next season meaning it will remain the same and not receive the projected increase. That’s a huge issue for a team like Washington which needed all the cap relief it could get.

“It’s difficult,” MacLellan said Friday. “We’ve been a cap team. We did our projections last season and it was going to be anywhere from $83 to $88 million and it comes in at $81.5. Even last season when it came in a little under what we projected it to be, you have to make some difficult decisions based on that.”

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Players like Braden Holtby, Brenden Dillon and Jonas Siegenthaler are all on the final year of their contracts and will be looking for raises. Considering the team just barely had enough cap space this year, there’s no extra money to give raises to three free agents. Washington also has a number of veterans on long-term contracts. Long term contracts are beneficial because, as time goes on and the cap steadily grows, the percentage of a player’s cap hit decreases. With a flat cap, that obviously won’t happen.

MacLellan also has to keep an eye on the future as Alex Ovechkin, Jakub Vrana and Ilya Samsonov are also entering the final year of their contracts in the 2020-21 season. It is very likely that the cap will remain flat beyond the next season so the team can’t max out this year without keeping enough money open for a new deal for those three players.

As if that wasn’t enough, the 2021 expansion draft also looms large.

The Seattle Kraken will enter the league in the 2021-22 season and the expansion draft will be held at the end of next season. Every team is going to lose one player to Seattle. Any player that MacLellan may want to sign or re-sign is another player he has to think about whether to protect in the draft or leave exposed and possibly lose.

“We’re going to lose a player,” MacLellan said. “There’s no way around it. You can only protect so many players and defensemen, you can only protect three. Any indication [from] the last time’s expansion draft, there were a lot of defensemen chosen. So I think it affects your decision-making process, but you’ve got to do what’s best for your team — that you feel, or we feel, that’s best for our team.”

Every team will be able to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie. MacLellan specifically referenced the defensemen because the team will have a lot of good players on the blue line that they will not be able to protect.

Should the team re-sign Dillon —and there seems to be mutual interest between the player and the team— then Dillon, John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, Michal Kempny and Nick Jensen will all still be under contract by the time of the expansion draft. You can add Siegenthaler to that list as well as he is an RFA and almost certainly will be re-signed. Plus, if the team wants to pick up a right-shot defenseman for the second pair in the offseason, that’s another body, far more than the team can protect.

“It’s a hard thing to manage,” MacLellan said, “But we’ll do the best we can.”

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The pregame festivities over the past week have looked quite different in the NBA compared to the NHL.

Over the past few days, all but one NBA player — Magic forward Jonathan Isaac — have kneeled for the national anthem in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Additionally, each player has worn a ‘Black Lives Matter’ t-shirt over their respective team’s warm-up gear.

That hasn’t been the case in the NHL, as players have continued to stand for the anthem.

After seeing players refuse to take a knee, several NHL fans have taken to Twitter to post pictures of them kneeling. Fans also started the trend #Kneel4Hockey, showing support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

— Joe Ginley (@JoeGinley)July 31, 2020

If the league won’t do it, I will.#BlackLivesMatter#Kneel4Hockeypic.twitter.com/WS2SJIegGD

— Brayden (@Engel_Brayden)July 31, 2020

If the NHL won’t, I will#Kneel4Hockey. Join me and donate to@BlackGirlHockey.#HockeyIsForEveryone#BlackLivesMatterhttps://t.co/8TSt1nJ1l1pic.twitter.com/dWXw81yzUb

— Ian M (@SaskLeafFan)July 31, 2020

I kneel because others won’t. I kneel because the NHL has refused to acknowledge the racism and injustices that are so prevalent in hockey culture#Kneel4Hockey#BlackLivesMatterpic.twitter.com/jOhW8FxK5r

— From Tape to Tape (@fromtapetotape)July 31, 2020

— Gal Pal Sports (@GalPalSports)July 31, 2020

These are just a few of thousands of fans that have participated in the trend on social media today.

Kneeling for the national anthem first started in 2016 when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick did so in order to raise awareness of police brutality. Following the death of George Floyd in May, prominent issues in society — racial inequality and social injustice — have risen to the forefront of the conversation in America.

While the NBA has done plenty to continue the social justice movement upon its resumption of the season, the NHL has not. And based on the #Kneel4Hockey trend, hockey fans are disappointed.

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It wasn’t so long ago that the Capitals were playing in front of a half-empty arena out in Landover, Md. If you told someone you were a fan of the Capitals, the frequent response was, who are they? Things have certainly changed. Perhaps no one knows that better than NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

More than ever, Washington is a hockey town and Bettman credits owner Ted Leonsis for much of that transformation.

“Under Ted Leonsis’ ownership, in particular, in terms of fan engagement and connectivity to the Capitals and to hockey, it has been extraordinary at all levels of the game – particularly to the youth hockey level,” Bettman said.

But beyond just Leonsis, Bettman credits two major factors with the growth of the game in the Washington region.

Despite being one of the few cities that boasts a team in each of the four major sports, area fans went through a lengthy championship drought. Before 2018, you had to go back to 1998 for the last time a team from Washington even made it to a championship in the NHL, NBA, MLB or the NFL and back even further to Super Bowl XXVI in 1992 for when a team actually won. D.C. United did win an MLS Cup in 2004, but that was only the organization’s ninth season.

For the Caps to break through that drought and finally bring a championship to D.C. was such an incredible moment for the city and one that will forever endear the Caps to sports fans throughout the DMV area.

“Bringing a championship to Washington, a city that can always use a unifying factor when other things are going on in the world,” Bettman said. “I think the Caps have been great for the psyche of the city.”

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Twenty years ago, the thought of thousands upon thousands of fans lining up in the street to watch the team play for the Stanley Cup was unthinkable, but that’s because a certain gap-toothed forward had not yet brought the team out of the depths of obscurity.

In terms of growing interest in the game, the effect Alex Ovechkin has had on hockey in the region cannot be measured. He is the biggest sports star in Washington and one of the biggest sports stars in the world.

“He is just awesome,” Bettman said. “When you think of how long he has been playing, how old he is and the shape he’s in and the skill that he brings to the game and intensity of the game, he’s just awesome.”

Washington is not Montreal or Toronto. It doesn’t hold the same place in the game as a city like Boston or Detroit does, nor do the fans live and breathe hockey the way other cities do. But the Caps have cemented their place in the history of the game by winning the Stanley Cup.

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Ovechkin is also one of the greatest players to play the game and his pursuit of Wayne Gretzky’s goal record – a number once thought to be untouchable – will again bring Washington to the forefront of the hockey world.

But will he get there?

Said Bettman, “We’re going to all enjoy the ride, to find out.”

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